Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I Believe, Dalton: Slice #14

Do you believe in your students? Do you have high expectations for their learning? Do you? Or do you just want to believe in them? Do you believe in them on Tuesday mornings, but then have serious doubts by Thursday afternoons?

Some days I have my difficulties. I have challenges. Doubt sneaks up on me. Dipping into the Twitter stream this evening, I came away inspired, refreshed, and renewed by the Dalton Sherman keynote that George Courous (@gcouros) tweeted.

Twitter inspires. Some days it virtually breathes my beliefs about what's right with kids right back into me.

Isn't Sherman an amazing young voice? At 2:23 he asks us, "Do you believe that every single one of us can graduate ready for college or the work place?"

Interesting word that "or." Or,coordinating conjunction and logical operator, what does it mean exactly? Either of two outputs. Either. Not both.

Does your school support either, either outcome for high school students: college or the workplace?

In this afternoon's English department meeting we learned that high school teachers have another test on their horizon. Juniors are now required to take the PERT test: Postsecondary Education Readiness Test.This is a state mandate.

If the junior  student does not demonstrate college readiness via ACT, SAT or above proficient scores on the state standardized test (the FCAT) then they must take the PERT--the scheduling of which is currently in the works. These tests will be in addition to benchmark tests for progress monitoring (given to all students who did not score above a 337--passing is 300--on our state reading test in fall and winter), AP exams and end of course exams in math and science. Many of these juniors who have to take PERT are enrolled in state mandated reading classes (they did not pass the state test in 10th grade and now much take reading instead of an elective course of their choice.) Students in reading classes must take the state's FAIR test and if that reading students is also a second language student he or she will take the CELA test. Some of these students have spent 20 school days testings. Twenty school days!

According to our attendance policy if students are absent that many days they have to prove they know the course material or they automatically fail the course--of course being absent for testing doesn't "count."

If juniors do not score well on the PERT it will affect their schedule. Instead of having the standard or honors English IV class on their schedule for senior year, students will be placed in an English IV college readiness class.

When I was a beginning teacher I gave my seniors the old College Placement Test. Well, I didn't give it to them, but I invited folks from a local community college to come and test my students so that my students could assess themselves as they made plans for their futures. It was enrichment and a point of discussion, not a requirement. There were no penalties, no doors closed if students didn't do well. Of course, when I started teaching we had a rich vocational-education program. Students built engines and computers and furniture. Students could graduate and get jobs in refrigeration or air conditioning and make more money than beginning teachers. We did what Dalton Sherman preaches; we prepared students for college or the workplace. Many times I felt we prepare students for both.

I think the college readiness class might mean an end to teaching British literature for some. It definitely means that those students will not have the same opportunities as students who take honors or advanced placement. It definitely means we will have fewer students in advanced placement or higher level classes. If students do not pass PERT our administrator told us they are not allowed to take upper level classes. Scary language, that.

In how many ways are we going to label students failures? Testing is not providing students with opportunities to learn and develop curiosity and passion.  Testing is not teaching.

Am I being unreasonable?

I told myself I wasn't going to rant or react after this meaning. Then I figured maybe I could just think my way through and come to some peace of mind. This is just one slice, slice 
#14 of 31 for the Slice of Life Story Challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers


  1. Lee Ann,
    This just made me sad. What a powerful post you have written! I cannot believe there is the possibility of even more testing. As a parent (teaching aside), I would much rather my children spend time learning than testing. Now to think opportunity, or loss of opportunity, may also be tied to testing. A similar thing seems to be happening in our district where MAP testing appears to be the way to get into honors courses --- or the way to be sent away from honors classes. Interesting isn't it? No thought about work ethic. No thought about passion for learning. No thought about potential. Just a test. Sad.

    1. Thank you, Cathy,
      I'm on the sad boat for parents too. My son is 10 and the current climate makes me truly question what will sort of high school experience he will have.

  2. Another test, another dollar for someone else, another ounce of despair for teachers and students. Sometimes the system is cruel.